Our way of being in the world, the way we present ourselves, our public persona if you will, is formed in reaction to, or is compensating for, an underlying belief or story that we are lacking or deficient in some fundamental way.
It’s this story of lack or deficiency that is responsible for ALL our relationship problems. In other words, the ego is basically a persona or mask designed to compensate for, or cover up, an underlying story of deficiency or inadequacy. That’s a mouthful, so let me explain what I mean by giving you a couple examples.
A person who presents him or herself as powerful, certain, in-charge and in control (often thought of as a bully) is actually someone who has a core belief of being weak and vulnerable. So they compensate with a bully-persona.
A person (such as myself, to be quite honest) who presents themselves as driven, successful and “the best,” is actually compensating for an underlying story of being worthless and not good enough. They’re out to prove their worthiness, so they (I) compensate with an achieving-persona.
The kind of person who is always “up,” who is the life of the party, who’s adventurous and busy (read: over-committed) is compensating for an inner feeling of emptiness and lifelessness. They’re always planning the next big thing so they don’t have to face the dead feeling inside and consequently, they compensate with a enthusiastic/energetic-persona.
Now, this isn’t a bad or immoral thing, it’s quite human in fact, but it does bring about great suffering in our personal and professional lives. Our way of being in the world is governed by this underlying (and usually unconscious) story of deficiency. It controls everything we do, albeit from behind the scenes. In other words, we’re motivated and controlled by the belief that we are inadequate and deficient in some fundamental way. Our entire life is a reaction to this story.
This core story of deficiency causes separation, defensiveness and conflict, both within us, and certainly with the people around us. The experience of being “triggered” occurs when someone or something pokes at this core story. It’s like poking a bee-hive—we swarm into a defensive rage.
For example, if the “Deficiency creates Persona” dynamic is in charge of my life, when someone doesn’t notice my accomplishments, value my achievements, or God forbid calls me average!, it will send me off the ledge. Why? Because I interpret those words or actions as a statement that I’m worthless and not good enough. You’re poking at my deepest fear/story.
Every time you are triggered by someone or something—that’s what’s happening. Someone touched your core story of deficiency and you’ll react like a mama bear whose cubs are threatened. Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of this core story. When we’re triggered or upset, we mistakenly believe it’s because of what the other person has said or done. In other words, it’s their fault. But what we fail to see is that we wouldn’t be triggered at all if we didn’t have our particular core story alive in the background of our awareness.
For example, if someone described me as, say, boring, that wouldn’t really bother me much because I don’t have a core story of being empty and lifeless. But it would enrage a person with an enthusiastic/energetic-persona because that’s their deepest fear. But, and don’t you dare do this ☺, if you called me a failure, you better look out for a fist coming your way!
Why does the comment, “failure,” trigger me and “boring,” doesn’t? Because my core story is of being worthless and not good enough. If that story wasn’t alive in the background of my awareness, your comments wouldn’t trigger me. They’d pass right on through because there wouldn’t be the “not good enough self” for it to bump into.
The big move in spiritual development is NOT to attempt to tame, console or dress-up the public persona (which is what 99.9% of the self-help industry and even self-esteem focused therapy does), but to address “the deficient one” behind the curtain, the one who is really running the show, pulling the levers and turning the knobs (which is what I do, by the way). If we are to become truly authentic, loving and liberated beings, we must deal with the core story of deficiency, NOT the compensating persona.
This underlying belief has to come out of the closet and be placed right in front of you. It has to be displayed in your awareness like a mother would display her kindergartener’s finger-painting on the refrigerator. All avoidance, denial and suppression has to end and you must look directly at it.
How do you do that? Well, you do what’s called an Inquiry. Once you bring your core story out into the open, (i.e. “weak-self”, the “worthless-self”, the “dead-self”, the “unlovable-self,” the “flawed-self,” the “unwanted-self”, etc., etc., etc.) you actually try to find that “self” as a real thing, as you. The Unfindable Inquiry, as it’s called, is a series of questions designed to see if you can find this “deficient self.” We believe it’s real; we believe it’s us. It’s not, of course, and the Inquiry process helps you see through the story.
(It’s beyond the scope of this piece to go through the process here, it would take too long to explain. I invite you to go to livingrealization.org and spiritual teacher, Scott Kiloby for a thorough explanation of what he calls, “The Unfindable Inquiry,” for he’s the originator of the process. I learned it from him.)
When the core deficient self is dealt with and seen through, the compensating persona (whose purpose was to keep you and everyone else from seeing the existence of the deficient self) begins to dissolve like the Wicked Witch did in the Wizard of Oz. Defensiveness relaxes and the separating, conflict-breeding way of being in the world is no longer necessary. The public persona’s fuel evaporates, and with it, all of its reactionary ways.
What are you supposed to do with all this? What’s the application? Well, start here: What is your core story of deficiency? (Please don’t tell me you don’t have one.) What is it that you’ve spent an entire life trying to avoid and keep others—or even yourself!— from seeing? What’s your deep fear? (Hint: It’s the opposite of your public persona and it’s also tied to your Enneagram type, if you’re familiar with that brilliant, spiritual personality system.)
Is it that you’re not good enough, worthless, invalid, unwanted, unlovable, inadequate, helpless, insecure, uncomfortable? Start with stories like those. Put it in your words and put it right out in front of you. Look right at it and then fill in the blanks:
“I have this core story that I’m ___________________ and I’ve developed a persona called _____________________ in order to compensate for it.
If you want to take the next step and actually try to find that “self” using the Unfindable Inquiry, call me. I’d be glad to do the Inquiry with you. It won’t be long before that “self” screams, “I’m melting!”